Local law enforcement continues to struggle to keep their ranks filled.
At the end of January, the Waterloo Police Service had nine open officer positions and a civil service roster of just eight approved candidates who might be able to fill them. This is if the candidates have not already moved and found work elsewhere.
Either way, the ministry has asked to compile a new civil service roster – a process that takes months – to fill in the remaining vacancies and prepare for future openings.
“It takes us a good three months from when we advertise, collect applications, do the physical tests, the medical tests and get a real certified list,” said Captain David Mohlis of the Waterloo Police Service.
Police chiefs across the county have experienced a shortage of people interested in joining their ranks, in part due to the George Floyd effect, a backlash against law enforcement in the wake of the racial justice movement .
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Unlike most career fields, hiring for law enforcement is a long and complex process. Candidates must pass a physical fitness test, written tests, background check and interviews before being placed on a list with other candidates.
When an agency has an opening, the department must hire from this list, which is valid for one year.
After hiring, the candidate must attend a 16-week state law enforcement academy. After the academy, they begin a field training program and are paired with an experienced officer for another 16 weeks and gradually begin to take on responsibilities until they are able to work on their own.
The Waterloo Police Department used to compile a civil service list about once a year. The most recent list was burned in about four months.
With fewer people applying for the job, the Waterloo Police Department added a $5,000 signing bonus.
“We’re talking about increasing that because other agencies are paying up to $15,000,” Mohlis said.
The Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office had a similar problem retaining staff. But Sheriff Tony Thompson said he was not interested in offering bonuses to people who join.
“It seems a bit counter-intuitive. What we focus on is incentivizing our staff, so we make it more attractive to work here,” Thompson said.
The sheriff’s office’s workforce was down about 10% for a period in 2021, but has made progress in recent months. It’s now down about 10 spots for a 140-person agency.
“We are doing a little better, and we have one in the hopper who is going to be hired, so we will be at nine. We’re slowly picking up, but we’re not off the hook yet,” Thompson said in January.
The sheriff’s office has fewer problems hiring staff. A few years ago, the agency began hiring civilian corrections officers to replace full, sworn county jail staff deputies, the bulk of the bureau’s operations.
Civilian jailers do not need to be drawn from a civil service roll or graduate from law enforcement academy, so the onboarding process is quicker – about a year. just under a month.
“We have an open, renewable application window, so they can apply at any time,” Thompson said. “Civilians tend to be a bit easier to hire.”
When a Patrol, Investigation, or Civil Procedure Deputy leaves, simply replace them with a Jail Deputy and bring a civilian into the resulting Jail vacancy.
At some point, the number of deputy and civilian jailers will even out, and replacing a deputy will mean hiring a new deputy, Thompson said.
On the other side of public safety in Waterloo, the fire department does not see staff reconsidering their careers as some police officers have. When firefighters leave, it’s usually to join another service, said Pat Treloar, head of Waterloo Fire Rescue.
“New millennials tend to move around a bit more than, say, my generation. We had young people who left to go to other ministries. They do not leave the fire department. They went out of state or they went to Des Moines or some bigger county,” Treloar said.
The department is currently down one firefighter, and it has a decent chance of filling the vacancy with its current civil service roster.
Even so, the department — much like law enforcement — is seeing dwindling interest in people choosing the fire service as a career.
“When we’re recruiting, we see fewer applicants,” Treloar said.
In the past, Waterloo Fire Rescue easily attracted 300 candidates vying for a chance to make the civil service list. Now it’s lucky if 100 people apply, Treloar said.